Euro 2024: How Portugal’s Overreliance on Cristiano Ronaldo Cost Them

Euro 2024: How Portugal’s Overreliance on Cristiano Ronaldo Cost Them

Martin Moses
updated at July 6, 2024 at 8:53 AM
In this article:
Cristiano Ronaldo logo
C. Ronaldo
Al Nassr FC logoFPortugal logo
UEFA European Championship logo
Portugal logo
  • Cristiano Ronaldo suffered a heartbreaking exit at Euro 2024 after Portugal lost to France on post-match penalties
  • The celebrated icon left the championships having failed to score despite starting in all five games in Germany
  • We discuss why Roberto Martinez's decisions surrounding his captain cost his team a chance at the semi-finals

PAY ATTENTION: Checkout Fixtures; Live Scores; Results and Tables section on Sports Brief and never miss out on the action ⚽️

At the end of Portugal's quarter-final shoot-out loss against France, Cristiano Ronaldo cut a completely different figure to the one we saw after he missed the penalty against Slovenia.

This time Ronaldo was disappointed, yes, but he remained calm and composed—as if he knew it was coming. He joined his teammates in applauding the fans, united in defeat. This time, it was his partner-in-crime over the years, Pepe, who needed some consoling.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal, Pepe, France, Roberto Martinez, Euro 2024
Cristiano Ronaldo consoles Pepe after Portugal were eliminated from Euro 2024 on July 5, 2024. Photo by Emin Sansar/Anadolu.
Source: Getty Images

One can't help but feel we have seen the last of the five-time Ballon d'Or in a major international competition. At 39 years old, despite how committed he is to the game and his fitness programme, he isn't getting any younger.

Going into Germany, Portugal were one of the favourites due to their immense squad depth on paper. It is a squad that Roberto Martinez ultimately failed to get the best out of.

Portugal's overreliance on Ronaldo

There will be a lot of introspection after the elimination, but from where I sit, Martinez needed more confidence on how to manage Ronaldo.

For starters, it is understandable why Martinez would want to start him in every game. His numbers and records in a highly successful career speak for themselves.

However, in this age and time, Martinez needed to be bolder with his decisions, both from the word go and from in-game tactics.

Ronaldo played every minute of Portugal's campaign in Germany, save for the final 25 against Georgia. For the first time, he exited a major tournament without finding the back of the net, despite numerous golden opportunities - none bigger than the missed penalty against Slovenia.

Ronaldo's poor free kicks at Euro 2024

The Al-Nassr forward struggled to dispatch opportunities sent his way. The major talking point was his insistence on taking almost all the free-kicks despite his low conversion rate. After the Slovenia game, he had taken 61 free kicks for Portugal but only scored once, according to Squawka stats.

Considering the numerous deadball specialists Portugal has, like Bruno Fernandes, Ronaldo should have stepped aside and allowed some of his teammates to take charge. For a country that plays a low block like Slovenia or is well-oiled defensively like France, there is no telling how set-pieces in dangerous areas could turn the game on its head.

Also, Martinez failed to recognise the fact that Ronaldo, despite his well-stocked CV had regressed at the tournament and perhaps, taking him off could have done the team a couple of favours.

Lack of proper substitutions cost Portugal

Against France, Martinez failed to utilise either Diogo Jota or Pedro Neto as the game desperately screamed for runners. The former Everton coach played almost the same squad that went the whole length against Slovenia with minor and inconsequential changes in extra time.

Martinez needed a different profile from Ronaldo to give the French side something different to think about. As soon as he skied his effort in extra time from point-blank range after Francisco Conceição's beautiful run, the writing was on the wall. That was Martinez's cue that something needed to change.

Ultimately, when the post-mortem is done, it should be noted that Martinez tried so much to build his game plan around Ronaldo - and it backfired. He was hellbent on having Ronaldo star in his presumable last dance rather than doing what was best for the team.

It's not to say that Portugal's exit was down to Ronaldo alone. Not at all. The 2016 champions were knocked out because Joao Felix missed a penalty and they failed to take their chances during normal time.

And the biggest of them all as already discussed, Martinez's decisions.

Why Germany were denied a penalty

In a previous report, Sports Brief explained why Germany were denied a penalty vs Spain.

The hosts exited the tournament after Mikel Merino scored in the 119th minute.

Julian Nagelsmann's charges, however, felt hard done after they were denied a penalty for what looked like a clear Marc Cucurella handball.

Martin Moses photo
Martin Moses
Martin Moses is a sports journalist with over five years of experience in media. He graduated from Multimedia University of Kenya (Bachelor of Journalism, 2017-2021)